Hi, Eric. We are here to discuss your epic poem, Takaaki. 66 sonnets, 924 lines. Can you tell us a little bit about Takaaki, the person, and how you came to write about him?
Sure. Takaaki is my boyfriend. Takaaki is a Japanese citizen. He is descended from samurai on his mother’s side. His father was (is) a kamikaze. Takaaki is a championship Scrabble player. He is a cook and an interior designer. He translated the Joy of Gay Sex into Japanese. He tells me to go to Hell whenever he feels that is necessary. It sometimes is. Takaaki makes me indescribably happy. A few years ago, he was forced to move back to Tokyo because his visa ran out and he couldn’t get a green card and we couldn’t get married. His departure nearly destroyed me. I suppose the poem sprang from that terrible moment of devastation—when I came home from work one night to an empty apartment. An empty life.
You knew he was leaving, didn’t you? You knew what was coming? He didn’t surprise you, did he?
No, no. Nothing like that occurred. We knew what was happening. Imagine watching a war slowly unfolding in the daily papers and looking up at your husband over coffee. How does one prepare to lose a loved one? We did our best to find some way for him to stay. The love we felt for each other was not sufficient legal justification for Uncle Sam. So, we resigned ourselves to being separated for an indefinite period: long commutes between Tokyo and New York once or twice a year, phone calls, birthday packages, cards, e-mail, letters.
Why didn’t you look for a job in Japan?
I did look for a job in Japan. I started studying Japanese. I ceased reading books in English. I stopped writing poetry altogether. I had to focus on what was truly important to me. Him. There was not one sacrifice I was unwilling to make for him. Even so, I couldn’t find a job in Japan.
How long did this go on? Didn’t you ever feel like giving up?
It is still going on. For a while, I tried to give up. I tried to be practical. First, I tried sex. It plugged a certain hole, but only temporarily. Soon, a great silence fell across the Pacific. I didn’t call Takaaki for months. I started dating again. But nothing ever worked out. I always wound up opening my wallet and rereading the note Takaaki placed under the plastic daikon grater he gave me (he is always giving me strange gifts) a few days before he left for Japan.
Do you mind if I ask you what that note said?
[With some hesitation.] Well, I can’t imagine it will mean very much to your readers, but if you think they might be curious, okay. His handwriting is much better than mine. [Reading aloud.] “Dear Maru-chan, Thank you for your hospitality. I shut the window because it looked like raining. I see you this weekend. Love, Takaaki.” How do you parse that, if you don’t know Takaaki?
I can’t. I don’t know Takaaki. Explain what that note means to you.
The strange mix of intimacy and formality makes me laugh. That phrase “it looked like raining” always goes right through my heart. Maru-chan is Takaaki’s nickname for me. Maru-chan is the smiling bald boy with a big red bowl and a big hungry smile who advertises a Japanese brand of miso. Takaaki thinks I look like this creature. [Rubbing the top of his head.] I think he might be right.
Love and war. Intimacy and formality. Joy and sadness. Japan and America. It sounds like you are describing a pair of slippers. How would you say these elements figure into Takaaki?
Would that be Takaaki the person or Takaaki the poem?
Good question. How do you distinguish the two in your mind?
Easy. [He hands him a book, a copy of Takaaki.] Imagine you are me. Imagine you had a choice. Which would you rather grab at a really scary movie? A book or a hand?
A hand. I would probably start the tearing pages out of a book. Any book. Even yours. Even The Bible. None would survive. Fingers are harder to pull off, I have noticed. But what does this say about art and life?
It says nothing new. Art takes us only so far. I was lonely. I wanted to recreate Takaaki in verse—to keep me company. We live, we love, we play games, we win, we lose—we scrub each other’s backs in the bath. I call the poem an epic, but it is really a Harlequin Romance. We make the best of life that we can. Art attempts to fill in the gaps. If art is anything, it is a beautiful failure. This is what I try to describe in the poem.
Do you think you succeeded?
[Smiling.] No. I set myself an impossible task. Takaaki is not here. The void is here. I come home to it every night. But I am learning to live with it. These days my apartment feels a little less empty, at least on the weekends.
Why? What happens then?
I call Takaaki in Tokyo every Sunday morning. We have made some decisions. Last Sunday, he proposed to me over the phone. We plan to get married the next time he is in New York City. [Cocking his head.] You know, if you are free, you should come to the wedding, too. [Cocking it further.] Bring your significant other. Bring your brother. Bring your father. Bring your mother. If you bring your own booze, you can bring every friend and relative you can think of. All will be welcome. Consider this interview your invitation.
I will be there. I can’t vouch for the rest.
Good. I will tell Takaaki that you are coming. I think you will really like Takaaki. When we are together, as we are in the book, you should hear us laugh.